Underwater Countdown

Trip report on Bali New Year 2006 by Nila Murti
It all started during the drunken last night of 2005 Manado dive trip in early November. I was attacking the Menadonese food that Cesil’s parents kindly donated to us, Tom and Mia were downing tequila and Mul was laughing continuously while trying to kiss another guy (can’t recall who). In one corner Martin tried hard to convince a very drunk Erwin that having the New Year countdown celebration underwater would be a great experience. Apparently in the end he managed to extract Erwin’s promise to coordinate a diving in Bali on 31 December, but we weren’t sure that Erwin would even remember anything about it, drunk as he was that night. So it was a surprise when he texted us a few weeks later about a New Year’s Eve dive trip!

31 December 2005 morning dives
We arrived in Bali on the late evening of the 30th December, staying at a hotel across from Bali Scuba. Early in the morning we were all organised into different cars and drove to Padang Bai.
Using Waterworxx boat with Mister Wolfgang himself to lead us, we headed to Gili Biaha for the first dive. It was a cloudy morning and the sea a bit choppy. The water temperature, fortunately, wasn’t too bad. It was 27 degree Celcius, a lot friendlier than the last time I dived here. However the visibility was not the best, it was only 10 meters, way below the visibility of the last time I was here, which reached 30 meters.
But still, the underwater was nice. We dived to 20 meters. As always, I like the volcanic wall with its coral covered pillars. We saw several sharks, huge lobster, an octopus, lots of squirrelfish and several nudibranch. The current was mild though there was quite a surge.
The second dive was at Gili Tepekong. It was a shallow dive, 14 meters at the deepest for me. Visibility was worse but we saw the sharks and the dive through the cracks and caves of Gili Tepekong is always fun, that we dived for more than an hour.
After the two enjoyable dives we said goodbye to Waterworxx and headed for Tulamben.

31 December 2005 the New Year countdown dive
That night the sea roared violently in Tulamben. The wind was beating ferociously, and the wave surged fiercely against the gravelly Tulamben beach. I stood shivering in the back verandah of Matahari Tulamben Resort looking with doubt at the white froth of the wave that almost reached my toes. The sky was dark with clouds and it drizzled lightly. Plus we heard that the river had flooded again – this could mean that Tulamben water would be like cappuccino – thick with brown mud. Are we crazy enough to dive in this cold night, I wondered.
At that point I thought that if everyone decided not to dive I’d be glad to also cancel the dive. But then again, I thought, this would be a rare chance, doing the count down to the New Year underwater. Plus before leaving I had announced to everyone - at home, in the office and all over the world - that that’s what I was going to do: celebrate the New Year underwater. What would they say if later they found out that in the end I didn’t do that?
Only Erwin, Martin and me were left in the verandah that night after dinner – the rest went to their rooms to have a bit of sleep before the dive. I decided not to take any nap because I thought I would feel too comfy in bed and would be too lazy to brave the cold water later :)
Apparently Kapal Selam divers ARE crazy. The weather wasn’t improving, but an hour before midnight everyone was up and scrambled dazedly around where the gears were hung. I hate donning my wet wetsuit in a cold night like this but with everyone ready to dive, there’s no excuse for me not to go :(
Then another bad news arrived – no porters will be available to help us since it was late already. We all groaned – the thought of walking along the gravelly beach carrying the whole gear in the dark was just too much. But Pak Oka, the owner of the resort, was nice, several of his staff appeared to help the females with the gears. Haha… sometimes it’s nice being a woman. Saying sorry silently to my feminist friends, I enjoyed the pampering :)
Still, walking gingerly along the beach in the dark while carrying 5 kilos of weights was not an easy thing to do. Swearing every time I stumbled, I asked myself again and again: “Why am I so stupid to be here and suffer like this?”
We stopped at the supposedly calmest point in the beach that night, just off the mouth of the river, near where all the jukungs (little wooden catamarans) were parked. It wasn’t calm at all. After struggling in the dark to don the gears, we struggled again to enter the water against the waves which determinedly tried to keep us from getting into the sea.
Finally, we managed to get in, and the water felt warmer once we were underwater. But next came another problem – there’s nothing to see. The water was dense with mud – so murky I couldn’t even see my buddy, who was right next to me and holding my hand! Even with the big torches we had to be very near each other so as not to be separated. So this is what it’s like diving in coffee, I thought.

I tried hard to follow a patch of light which I thought belong to Erwin. The patch of light slowed at a point which I thought was still not very far from the beach. My dive computer showed a depth of 17 meters. It was in a gently sloping sandy-silty bottom. We should be turning right if we wanted to go to the drop off as agreed. But instead the patch of light that I followed just dived around and around and around in the area.
I was hoping whoever it was; the patch of light had not lost direction. Some Kapal Selam diving professionals have been known to lost direction sometimes when they are ‘not at their peak condition’ (i.e. when they’re having hangover)  :) But I remembered that we have not been drinking that night, so this wasn’t one of those situations. Maybe this is the location intended to be the point where we would celebrate the New Year. But I thought we would dive at drop off, which would be to our left?
Then the water became somewhat less murky so we could see in the torch light to about 2 meters, and I began to recognise those in the group. One was Erwin; so I was following the correct patch of light, or so I thought. My beloved buddy Martin, of course, was following me faithfully. Monica from Mimpi Resort was buddying with Erwin. Then there’s Erika and Cynthia. I didn’t see Tom or Mia. Pak Oka, Theres and Pak tjokro were also nowhere to be seen. They were probably separated from us earlier.
There we were in that cold dark night, diving around and around in a circle in the murky water, with nothing much to see. Sometimes, when somebody inadvertently kicked the bottom, the water became thick like porridge with the sand, silt and mud swimming along with us, and there were even less to see. And it began to feel a bit boring and stupid, and I was waiting impatiently for the midnight to strike.
Wait a minute, how would we know when the midnight will struck, I thought. Martin was supposed to indicate when it’s midnight but I wasn’t sure how he would do it since his dive computer was in the dive mode and there’s no indication of time in that mode, except to indicate the length of the dive. Oh well, I shrugged, he could probably estimate the midnight from the time we entered the dive and the length of the dive. Later on I learned that this was exactly what he did, and then we both learned that actually even in the dive mode our identical dive computers can be used to indicate time, by pushing one of the buttons. Duh! Talking about knowing one of your most important gear!
Anyway, in the end Martin bang his tank and we all followed suit, banging with all our might. The fishes must have thought we’re mad. Torches were made blinking and we groped here and there to shake hands. (And by the way honey, that wasn’t my hand, and hopefully you didn’t do the same to any of the other girls :) ...)  So this was it, our underwater countdown celebration. Too bad we didn’t have any drink with us. It would have been nice probably to have champagne in a Ribena-like packaging, to accompany our celebration.
Mission accomplished, we immediately started to ascend. We struggled again to get to the shore and walked with all our gears back to the resort (Alas, no pampering for the ladies this time!)

Later we learned that Tom and Mia had to abort the dive because Tom has a problem with his equipment. Also we learned that Pak Oka had dived with Theres and Pak Tjokro to the drop off – as per original plan – and found that the visibility was good there. Hah, so I wasn’t following the correct patch of light after all!

1 January 2006 morning dives
It was difficult to wake up in the morning. But thinking that now after moving to Singapore I can’t dive as much as before, I persuaded myself to get up and get into the wet wetsuit again.
The two morning dives were nice. The waves weren’t as ferocious as during the night and the sun was shining. The early dive was at the Liberty wreck. We saw the huge grouper, the barracuda, a mantis shrimp, the garden eels and many sweetlips having breakfast. The second dive location was right behind Matahari Tulamben resort, a gently sloping sandy bottom covered with lots of soft corals. A nice calm dive with lots to see, that without realising it we dived to 31 meters! We met several unique nudibranch, a school of jacks, lots of anemone fish, a cuttlefish and lots of sweetlips. The gentle morning sun was streaming into the water and I thought it was a perfect anticlimax to last night’s adventure.
That afternoon we drove south to ‘Kapal Selam headquarter’, Hengky-Thea’s house in Kerobokan. As usual, the dive trip ended with an eating and drinking party. Barbequed fish, chicken, shrimp and many bottles of alcoholic drinks were the menu of our above water New Year celebration, and we laughed at our experience the night before. It wasn’t a spectacular dive but hey, at least I can say I have celebrated the count down to 2006 out there in the sea - underwater!